Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Beginnings of Summer in the Garden

How appropriate, that just after the solstice, the first cherry tomato and squash of the year are ripe for the picking.  (Also, only 3 robins remain in the nest, they have begun to fledge!  This is making me nervous with the dogs and all, I will need to be vigilant over the next week or so.)

Today's Harvest:

The bottom leaves are getting quite yellow on my Sungold plant, so I gave the bed a sprinkle of slow release organic fertilizer, and the yellowing plant a shot of fish emulsion.  Hopefully that will supply enough nutrients to correct the problem and keep the plants healthy as they put on their new growth.


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

This just in....more trouble ahead for small farms.

"National Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement" (NLGMA) 

Remember the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) that passed last year? We won a hard fought battle, securing appropriate food safety rules for small-to-midsized farms and processors producing fresh and healthy food for local and regional markets.  This law will be implemented by one of the agencies with food safety authority - the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Now, USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service, an agency with no food safety expertise or authority, is proposing to establish a set of food safety regulations for leafy greens (spinach, lettuce, and cabbage) growers and handlers who sell into the wholesale market, called the National Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (NLGMA).

The most powerful "Big Ag" players in the leafy green industry are pushing the National Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (NLGMA).   The sellers, processors, or distributors that sign on to the rule will require that the farmers they purchase from comply with its standards. The rule adds a second and conflicting layer of food safety standards and audits on top of FDA food safety rules.

USDA is seeking written comments from the public on the NLGMA proposal by July 28th.   Write USDA today to urge them to reject this proposal.  

Here are some suggested points to make: 

  • I oppose the creation of a National Leafy Green Marketing Agreement, which I believe to be the wrong approach to address food safety concerns.
  • The Agricultural Marketing Service is not a food safety agency.   It is bad public policy to create food safety regulations in order to address the "marketing" goal of increasing consumer confidence in the safety of leafy greens.    Food safety policies should be driven by science, not by marketing problems.
  • The NLGMA, as proposed, would give the large conventional produce industry the ability to use its own world view to dictate farming practices.   Small scale and organic farmers would have a very small voice in the standard-setting process.
  • The NLGMA is modeled on state food safety agreements in California and Arizona.   In those examples, the conventional produce industry has pushed through food safety regulations that are biased against organic and small-scale farmers, have led to the destruction of wildlife habitat and discouraged good conservation practices on farms.  
  • Diversified farming operations with complex rotations have been shown to be beneficial to the environment.    Yet crop-by-crop food safety regulations, such as the NLGMA, are an economic disaster for diversified farming operations, and are biased toward large mono-cultural operations.   For a farmer with 40 crops on 100 acres to comply with 40 different food safety regulations is prohibitively burdensome.  Crop specific food safety regulations, such as NLGMA, will drive farmers out of environmentally sensitive diversified crop production, and toward chemical-intensive mono-cultural operations.  This is counter to the goals of food safety and more environmentally sound agriculture.
  • The Food and Drug Administration is currently writing regulations to establish food safety standards for produce.   Why is AMS proposing to establish standards that conflict with or duplicate the FDA standards, with the conventional leafy greens handlers in the drivers' seat?
The NLGMA is a disaster waiting to happen, for farmers, consumers, the environment, and ultimately for food safety.  
Also see the Action and Alert Comment Form from theNational Sustainable Agriculture Coalition - (NSAC)

For more information on this action alert, or about NOFA/Mass Policy and Social Action, please contact Jack Kittredge, Policy Director - 978-355-2853, or  

Monday, June 20, 2011

Still here....

Whew, has life been moving by in a flash these last couple of weeks.  The weather has much improved, and the garden is growing taller and greener by the day.  I am still trying to catch up with the weeding!  I have a few friends looking over my shoulder while I am out there with hose and weed bucket:

There is no vacancy in that robin's nest!  I found an egg in my garden under a tall oak tree a number of weeks ago, and I relocated it to the eggs in the nest pictured above in hopes it would be viable.  It felt warm and heavy so I was hopeful.  (I know birds sometimes kick out an egg on purpose, and that is what I figured Mama Robin would do if the one I added was dud.)  I checked under the magnolia tree that holds this nest daily for any 'discards' and never saw any.   There are 5 babes in that nest so I have a feeling the egg transfer was a success.  Baby birds are just so darn cute, and I must say that these chicks are much quieter than the house wrens in the bird house out back.  What a racket they make!

I have been terrible about posting updates on the garden.  The tomatoes are full of fruit and are stretching towards the sun (pictured below).  Cucumbers and zucchini are growing on the vines, while the winter squash, beans, and eggplant are just beginning to flower.  (A varietal note - Magda are winning the squash race and almost ready to harvest, with Partenon not far behind.  Black Beauty is slow to go compared to it's squash mates.)  I was surprised to see a few small peppers on the bushes while watering today, the last time I noticed them they were just setting fruit.

My potato onions have fallen and are dying back quickly, so early compared to a standard variety onion.  Some of the garlic is coming close to maturity as well, I am anxious to harvest and gain some bed space for fall greens.

The fruit season is progressing nicely as well.  The apples are sizing up, blueberries & currants are starting to turn,  and brambles are flowering and setting fruit, though strawberries are of coarse the current stars.  We went picking on Father's Day and there is some jam cooling on the counter, and about 20 more pounds of berries waiting for me in the fridge.  Yikes!

Off to finish putting together the potato salad for dinner, 
can't wait for those new potatoes to start coming in.  
Happy gardening everyone!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Dreaded Bolt.

The wide swings and temperature have arrived in New England.  These swings along with the accompanying heat wave cause much stress to the vegetable garden.  The tomatoes in bloom this week will likely not set, and the lettuce and greens will likely bolt.  Not so great news all around.

This year I have two beds under shade cloth, and I have been watering the lettuce daily.  So far there are no flower/seed stalks going up, but I have not been able to sample the lettuce to see if the bitterness has increased.  Brassicas and cilantro have however bolted under the cloth.

The 'Slobolt' lettuce seed I ordered has offered zero germination so I can't count on that one getting me through the summer.  I do have other supposed heat tolerant mixes to sow for summer and fall cutting as soon as I make some room.  It seems as though starting the seedlings under fewer hours of light may lengthen the number of days until bolting occurs.  (Just how does one accomplish this without grow lights in the basement though?)  Maybe sow them in trays or lettuce boxes on a shady porch?

Interestingly enough I have noticed another benefit from using shade cloth this year, it seems to be keeping the little green worms of my asian greens and mesclun mix.  From now on I will keep shade cloth over those greens even in cooler weather.

So here is my question for all of you, what varieties of lettuce and or greens do find to be tolerant of longer days, higher temperatures, and large fluctuations?  Do you have any tricks that seem to help prolong your harvest season?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Kitchen Garden Webinar

I have very little experience with Renee's Garden , though what little I do have has been good.  I  am intrigued by this company due to the abundance of information on their website, and the gorgeous and informative seed packets.  I of course have no connection to this company, I just wanted to share a link to a horticulture webinar I watched recently done by Renee Shepherd:

I have only grown out lettuce seeds from Renee's so far this year, but the rate and speed at which they germinated impressed me.  I ordered some seeds for next year's garden after watching the webinar.  I learned of a few new varieties I am eager to try, and also I appreciate that she mixes varieties within one seed packet for things like beans and peppers, color coating the seeds so you know which is which.  That means fewer leftover seeds for a small kitchen gardener like myself.  There is no paper catalog, and the selections offered are catered to the home gardener.  If you have some time to spare watch the linked video, I hope that you my enjoy it as much as I did.

Happy Gardening!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Pantry Shelving, Loss of 'Wisdom', Ticks, and Figs.

Things have been a little wild and whacky around here.  My birthday brought the removal of my remaining wisdom teeth (what a gift!), so I have been out of commission and relying on hubby to water the garden.  The weeds are taking over, and some of the lettuce is bolting.  It is killing me to not be out there tinkering every day as I normally do, and enjoying the last of the greens before they succumb to the heat of June.  I discovered garlic scapes and peas that needed harvesting over the weekend, more stuff I can't eat.   At least the ripening strawberries have been juicy and sweet, mmm-mmm.  We threw up some netting around the beans and peas last minute before my surgery last week as the rodents were mowing them down.  Seems that when we lost our dog Travis (aka 'The Hunter'), word got around quick in the critter community that the yard and gardens are now safe turf.    The only things that get hunted around here now are veggies, here is one canine caught in the act, stealing pea greens from the bunny:

She had a mouthful, but sucked them down as I grabbed the camera.  I try to give everyone their cup of greens daily so there is no need to beg, fight, and steal over it all.

Now on to those ticks.  More mice, rabbits, and chipmunks mean more ticks being dropped, and the vegetable garden is loaded with them right now.  Gross.  We laid down insecticide between the raised beds today.  Normally we just treat the lawn as Lyme Disease is prevalent in this area and is no joke, but since we have been picking up ticks in the garden we had to spread the poison in there too.  We also purchased some Tick Tubes which will hopefully help cut the population way back in the future.  These are cardboard tubes filled with permethrin coated cotton balls.  The idea is that mice take the cotton for nesting material, and thereby kill the nymphs that spread the Lyme.  We are hoping so anyway.

In other garden news I received a new fig tree from my Fairy Garden Father.  Me and figs have bad, bad  juju, and I have not been able to keep a tree alive yet.  This will be my third, and if this one dies I will swear them off forever.  Fingers crossed, I need some witchy-voo-doo good vibes sent to my fig.  Seriously.

In non-gardening related news we went to Erin's favorite store to pick up some pantry shelving.  Really we needed better wine storage, and the stuff at Ikea fit the bill so we went for the whole darn thing.  I was able to fit so much more into a smaller space thanks to the functional shelving.  I also picked up some recycle bins and a trash can for bulk storage, check it out:

We won't starve or be forced to stay sober in the event of a natural disaster, lol.
Not space wasted here, LOVE IT!
I buy flour and sugar in 25 lb. bags, so this large can is just perfect for holding the large sacks.  Yes that is Bud Light stashed back there- I use it for beer bread, not drinking.  I promise.
These recycle bins make for stackable bulk storage in the corner.
.......and T.P..

So 'Erin-Ikea-Shelving-Goddess', how did we do?  ;)